Once it was a technique that helped protect knights in armour from the crashing blows of their rivals. Now, Ford is applying a cutting-edge version of the same technology to help make its cars safer than ever.
The first fully automated hot-forming process shapes and cuts parts of the car using giant furnaces, robots and 3,000°C lasers. These parts are integral to protecting drivers and passengers.
“We are building on techniques used to strengthen steel for thousands of years, incorporating modern materials and automation to speed and refine the hot-forming process,” said Dale Wishnousky, vice president, Manufacturing, Ford of Europe. “The resulting boron steel safety cell helps to make the all-new Focus one of our safest vehicles ever.”
Knights in armour, robots and lasers: Ford is first to fully automate process that helps make all-new Focus safest yet
The hot-forming line is in a full integration within the company’s Saarlouis Vehicle Assembly Plant in Germany. It is a part of a recent €600 million investment in the Saarlouis facility. Hot forming is an integral part of the production of the all-new Ford Focus. And the car received a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
All-new Focus makes extensive use of boron steel – the strongest steel used in the auto industry – within the car’s safety cell. This helps to create a survival space in the event of an accident. In addition, the use of boron, also found in skyscrapers, helps the new model to achieve a 40 per cent improvement in the car’s capability to withstand head‑on crashes.
Hot-formed steel pieces are subjected to temperatures of up to 930°C. Then robots unload them into a hydraulic press that has a closing force up to 1,150 tonnes. And then just in 3 seconds, the pieces go through shaping and cooling procedures. The boron steel is so strong by this point that a laser beam hotter than lava is in use to precision-cut each piece into its final shape.